Council meeting discussions turn political

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(Revised 10/15/12)

In addition to hearing an audit report during their council meeting last week, Williamston Town Council had financial and other discussions that eventually turned political in nature. Councilmen Mike Looper and Mack Durham brought up several issues to which Mayor Carthel Crout responded including  motions to have the town attorney look into.

Councilman Mike Looper brought up the town’s purchasing policy and the contract with Clearwater, to operate the town’s wastewater treatment plant (WWTP).

Looper has stated on more than one occassion that the contract was a proposal and was not voted on by council.

During his comments, Looper asked the town attorney if the contract fell under the purchasing policy.

Looper said that the overages in the sewer department are the result of the contract.

Councilman Mack Durham then read a lengthy description of the administrators duties and related purchasing policy.

Mayor Crout said that the contract with Clearwater was approved by him after Council voted to allow the mayor to do what was necessary to meet RUS specifications for the WWTP upgrade project.

He said the town didn’t have a contract with the engineering firm Goldie and Associates which had engineered the project and operated the plant during the upgrade.

“We are still under that contract with RUS,” the mayor said. “Once that contact is complete, then we will bring it back to council. I only did what I was instructed to do.”

“RUS told me what they needed and council voted to allow the mayor to do so,” Crout said.

The project is expected to be completed over the next three to four months, according to the mayor.

Councilman Looper directed his comments to the town attorney, asking the attorney to review and determine if the Clearwater contract is legal.

Crout asked him if he wanted to make that a motion, to which Looper replied that he did. The motion was approved unanimously by Council.

Looper also made a motion for the town attorney to look into a possible violation of the town’s nepotism policy, which was also unanimously approved by Council. There were no details offered by Looper on the motion.

Mayor Crout announced that he had several public information concerns.

He said the CDBG grant for work on a sewer problem on Academy St. is in the final bid stages with surveying underway. The project should begin in about 45 days he said.

Crout announced that a new business that will emply approximately 12 people is expected to be coming to the Williamston area soon.

He also addressed a rumor that the National Guard is leaving the armory in Williamston. He confirmed that the town is working with Senator Billy O’Dell and the National Guard on the situation and will bring it to council in January.

Crout reported that the parking lot project behind the Municipal Center should be completed in three weeks. He said that during construction, workers found sinkholes and busted drain lines that needed to be replaced. There was also a delay in Duke Power replacing a power line that ran through the lot to the Municipal Center complex.

Councilman Durham then said he wanted to respond to a political ad which said that he refused to provide information to the mayor concerning questions Durham had raised about the town finances.

Crout responded that when allegations are made he needed to respond to it.

After the meeting Councilman Durham said that “That information is readily available to him (the mayor)” and is public record.

He said his allegations of overspending are “all in the June report” to which he said Crout could go to for each department.

He said there is no obligation on the council to supply the mayor with that information.

On the audit report (in last week’s Journal) Durham said, “We are on a path of a dangerous three year trend of spending more money than we’re taking in. If we continue this behavior, we will quickly deplete our resources.”

Looper said the point he was making with his comments was “We are not following the purchasing policy.”

He said he felt the Clearwater contract to operated the WWTP should be voided.

“We should get real quotes from companies competent to operate the plant,” he said.

Looper also said that the town’s policies are contradictory.

Mayor Crout said that he did not want to get into a polictical debate during the council meeting.

On the audit report which states there are conflicts in policies, Crout said there is an ordinance for the administrator and one for purchasing which are conflicting.

Crout said that under the strong mayor form of government, the responsibility on purchasing falls to him.

According to Crout, the administrator is there to assist the mayor and the mayor has the full responsibility to approve anything over $500.

Crout said that the administrator guidelines are for that position and do not apply to him.

“They show what she can and can’t do. That doesn’t apply to me. The purchasing policy applies to the mayor,” he said.

Crout said that under the budget ordinance, which is signed by council, there is no wording on the moving of money for line items or from department to department.

On the budget overage, Crout said “We try to stay on budget.” He said that the police department, which is one of the largest over budget, is still only 6 percent over the total budget, falling within a guideline of 10 percent generally accepted for governments.

He also stated that the purchasing policy is signed by council and provides the guidelines the town is working under.

Crout said his responsibility is to the full council, not one or two members.

He said that the comments and allegation made by Durham during the council meeting are political in nature.

“The whole thing is political,” he said. “It is a smokescreen to cover his financial inadequacies in his business.”

“I don’t see how he can make those comments with a straight face and criticize anything when he can’t handle his finances,” Crout said.

“Basically we got a very good audit, only six percent over on the budget. We will fix that,” Crout said.

He said the town will fix the issue of transfer of line items and the discrepancies in the purchasing policies.

Crout said that he believes the two councilmen are bringing up issues because they don’t understand the responsibilities and authority under the strong mayor form of government.

“The town voted twice to keep this form of government,” he said “They (Looper and Durham) don’t understand the strong mayor form of government.”

During public comments, Council heard from Sharon Smith who said she had many concerns but urged town officials and the town to get along and need to come together with open minds and work on problems.

Pamela Owens challenged councilmembers to do what they promised to do if elected. Owens said there is an overgrown lot on Academy St. and at the old hospital building which needs to be taken care of.

Walter Smith told council that the Williamston Christmas Parade date is set for Dec. 8 at 3 p.m.. He said the committee needs volunteer help and suggestions in time to do something with. He can be reached at 847-7929.